China youth reject hustle tradition; face unemployment, economic uncertainty

Crystal Guo says she sometimes works for about six months to a yr earlier than quitting.

It’s what the 30-year-old describes as her new way of life of “intermittent working and persistent lying flat.” 

Young individuals in China are rising disillusioned and annoyed with work and life, and a few at the moment are turning their backs on a crushing hustle tradition as they face challenges starting from rising unemployment to layoffs and economic uncertainty.

The competitors is so intense that some say they’ve given up on their desires and aspirations.

The idea of “tang ping” — which implies “lying flat” in Chinese — turned a popularized time period in China final yr. It was one of many prime 10 web buzzwords in China in 2021, based on the National Language Resource Monitoring and Research Center. 

“The popularity of this word reflects the stress and disappointment young people feel,” mentioned Jia Miao, an assistant professor of sociology from New York University Shanghai.

“Tang ping is the rejection of overworking, where you let things be and do the bare minimum,” mentioned Miao.

In March this yr, one other Chinese time period emerged on-line. Reflecting an angle towards life, the time period “bai lan” — translated to imply “let it rot.” Posts associated to the subject have garnered greater than 91 million views on Chinese social media big Weibo as of Wednesday. 

The reputation of this phrase displays the stress and disappointment younger individuals really feel.

Jia Miao

Assistant professor of sociology, NYU Shanghai. 

“Bai lan is where young people refuse to put further efforts [in life] because they just can’t see any hope in doing so,” Miao added. 

The time period first gained reputation amongst gamers on common video video games like “League of Legends,” based on Miao. It was initially used to explain gamers who retreat or surrender throughout a tough battle to take up “easier tasks” as a substitute. 

Miao added: “This group of people are active Internet users, so this word became popular later even among non-players.”

While the anti-hustle mentality of tang ping (lie flat) appears to have some parallels to the so-called quiet quitting motion that gained reputation on TikTookay final month, bai lan (let it rot) appears to be a extra unfavourable time period, Miao identified, saying that it refers to a state of decay the place “one gives up any possibility of hope.”

What is the supply of this disillusionment amongst younger individuals in China? CNBC Make It finds out. 

Unemployment and uncertainties

Both buzzwords, tang ping and bai lan, mirror the extreme competitors confronted by younger Chinese as we speak, mentioned Miao.

“While competition is expected in society, this is on top of uncertainty caused by the pandemic and…  it’s been much harder this year for young people to find jobs.” 

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment price for these between the ages of 16 and 24 was virtually 20% in July, far above the nationwide city jobless price of 5.6%. 

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Speaking to CNBC in Mandarin, Guo mentioned that she was retrenched twice in lower than a yr, one thing she described as “quite incredulous.” 

She was first retrenched in July final yr, whereas working at a non-public firm offering after-school training. Guo was laid off when China cracked down on the training system and carried out the “double reduction” coverage, which aimed to ease the burden of extreme off-campus tutoring for college students. 

After touring for half a yr round China utilizing her severance package deal, Guo returned residence to Shenzhen and located a job at an actual property firm in February this yr.  

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Much to her horror, her total division was laid off shortly after. 

“I was definitely affected… The job market situation this year has been quite dire. When I tried to find another job, it was during the time when the tech industry was also reporting layoffs,” Guo mentioned. 

“I was looking for a job fervently, but I couldn’t find one that was suitable.” 

Lying flat turned a type of “escape from reality” for Guo, she mentioned. After failing to safe one other job, she used her free time to take up part-time jobs to cowl her day by day bills, or pursue different hobbies. 

“I admit, it could be me escaping from the reality of having to find a job.” 

Out-of-reach aspirations 

Lying flat and letting it rot are the antithesis to the definition of success in China — which could be captured with the expression “cheng jia li ye,” mentioned Miao. “That means, being able to buy an apartment, have a family, a decent career and money.” 

However, it’s not simply the shaky job market that has made these aspirations more and more out of attain for some individuals, regardless of how arduous they labored.

For instance, buying a house in massive cities like Shanghai and Beijing has grow to be “nearly impossible” for the common younger Chinese, mentioned Miao.

According to Zhuge, an actual property market monitoring and analysis institute in China, the nation’s housing price-to-income ratio is “much higher” than the worldwide common of three to six occasions.

In 2021, common housing costs have been 12 occasions greater than common incomes, information from Zhuge confirmed.

To me, it is refusing to be kidnapped by societal expectations… homes are so costly, there is no such thing as a level enthusiastic about [purchasing one] as a result of it’s going to give me lots of stress.

The perceived lack of social mobility, coupled with rising prices of residing, is driving disillusioned younger individuals to “turn their backs” on such expectations, she added. 

“So many people are choosing to avoid thinking of it. They refuse to participate in competition, they refuse to compete for money, an apartment or marriage,” she added. 

That’s the mindset of 31-year-old Qiu Xiaotian, who mentioned he identifies with the thought of “lying flat.” He defines it as doing solely what is critical to outlive, and “not striving for things,” based on CNBC’s translation of his Mandarin feedback.

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“To me, it’s refusing to be kidnapped by societal expectations. For example, houses are so expensive, there is no point thinking about it because it’ll give me a lot of stress,” mentioned Qiu, who’s working as a videographer.

“Even though I am married, I don’t wish to have kids either. Why should I when having one would cause my quality of life to drop drastically? I can’t give my child a good life.”


For Guo, who turned 30 this yr, societal expectations that one ought to have the power to personal a house, and boast of job and household, are felt most when she compares herself to her friends. 

“There is that expectation to have a house, a good career and a family — of which I have none.” 

But the idea of mendacity flat, or not having a full-time job in her case, has given her time to consider what she values in life, Guo mentioned. 

When I used to be 22, I fearful if I might have achieved nothing at 30. But now at 30, I settle for being odd. I do not assume it is as necessary to be wealthy, or be capable to afford a home anymore.

Crystal Guo

Postgraduate pupil

“When I was 22, I worried if I would have achieved nothing at 30. But now at 30, I accept being ordinary. I don’t think it’s as important to be rich, or be able to afford a house anymore.”

She added: “When I was working, my life would revolve around work and I felt like I missed out on time to myself.” 

Backlash and criticism

A rising sense of disillusionment is now driving younger Chinese to “turn their backs” on society’s expectations to succeed, mentioned Jia Miao from NYU Shanghai.

Baona | E+ | Getty Images

However, Guo insisted that selecting to lie flat doesn’t suggest she’s given up on herself. 

“Even though it looks like I’m doing nothing for 6 months, I am working hard on myself. ‘Tang ping’ gives me breathing space to reflect on my career and future, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.” 

Her time away from work has additionally impressed her to pursue a Master’s diploma in psychology.

“I have set goals for myself when I am not working, so ‘tang ping’ doesn’t feel like a waste.”

Despite the recognition of buzzwords like tang ping and bai lan, Guo mentioned it doesn’t essentially translate to an entire lack of motion amongst younger individuals.

People who lie flat like me, it is not like they aren’t contributing [to their companies], they simply lack motivation to supply further worth.

Similarly, quiet quitting doesn’t suggest you are leaving the job — for some, it means setting boundaries and never taking up further work; for others, it simply means not going above and past.

“Some young people say it, but they actually don’t do it. For example, they’ll say, ‘Today is my fourth day of ‘bai lan.’ From tomorrow onwards, I must begin writing my thesis.'”

Qui agreed, saying that tang ping will not be an enormous drawback.

“People who lie flat like me, it’s not like they are not contributing [to their companies], they just lack motivation to provide extra value.” 

— CNBC’s Iris Wang contributed to this report.

Don’t miss: Is ‘quiet quitting’ a good suggestion? Here’s what office consultants say

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